Sofía Jaramillo Otoya ’17 LL.M.
2016–2017 Human Rights Fellow
Sofía Jaramillo Otoya ’17 LL.M. decided to pursue a life and career in human rights to fight against impunity, abuses, and inequalities in Colombia, her home country. She studied law to gather the tools necessary “to help build a society that is fair and just, to strengthen democracy, and to give people access to justice,” she says.
While attending law school at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, Jaramillo Otoya worked with NGOs that were helping to support victims of armed conflict and shedding more light on how right-wing paramilitary groups infiltrated the government. She later moved to Washington, D.C., where she provided legal and policy advice for the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Looking to cause a positive impact in the defense of freedom of expression and access to information in local courts and jurisprudence, Jaramillo Otoya returned to Colombia, where she took a position with the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society, known as Dejusticia. There, she coordinated the creation of a Spanish-language version of the Global Freedom of Expression, a project established by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger ’71. She helped develop a searchable database of significant freedom of expression decisions from 16 Latin American countries. “This will encourage dialogue between justices around Latin America and will help people involved in freedom of expression issues to learn lessons from other courts,” she says.
Jaramillo Otoya’s involvement with Columbia Law School further exposed her to activists, professors, and what she describes as “one of the greatest, most complete set of human rights courses.” The Human Rights Fellowship, she says, will broaden her scope, allowing her to study different legal systems and frameworks and provide her with the tools necessary to better grasp present challenges in her country and throughout Latin America, and to devise practical strategies that can lead to solutions.
She has also been chosen to work as an international law and human rights research assistant with the Human Rights Institute to advance the practice of, and scholarship about, “critical human rights advocacy”—characterized by deliberate and reflective efforts to reform human rights practice in light of critiques of the field.
After graduation, Jaramillo Otoya hopes to continue exploring comparative legal cultures by visiting other countries. But she’s sure she’ll one day return to her native country. “I want to continue the fight for democracy and to strengthen the free exchange of ideas in Colombia,” she says.